“No Child Left Behind” is like another stanza for the “I have a dream” speech. I have dreams, too. Unfortunately, we live in reality and this legislative action has become a dead weight on meaningful educational progress.
“No Child Left Behind” bred the standardized tests which have become the rigid, carved-in-stone yardstick against which schools are measured and which results determine shrinking allocations of a school’s critical operating funds. Of course, if you have enough low-performing students who can’t pass the test, then you lose the funds you need to improve your programs – or even to maintain the ones you have. So in too many instances, the local powers-that-be cheat to save their facilities – dropping failing kids from their school rosters so that they won’t be counted against their school or by teachers completing or correcting tests or giving the answers -- or in too many cases, local governments lowering the standards so that more kids pass. It’s called “dumbing down” and we’ve gotten real good at it just so that we can pretend that life is an even playing field and that’s what democracy is all about…nobody is allowed to be ahead of anybody else, instead of an equal opportunity available for anybody who’s willing to make an effort.
Now the stats are in and this nation has the lowest SAT results in about 40 years. If you believe the SAT scores, our kids can’t read for doo-doo, their math skills are dismal (one assumes the other basics of history, science, composition and geography are equally deficient) and they don’t seem to be cut out for anything but a future of near illiteracy, fast-food semi-employment and playing video games. Meantime, the cost of higher education, assuming this bunch of academic dummies can actually do the scholastics, has soared beyond most middle-class families’ financial reach and definitely beyond the reach of the working poor. In fact, the current societal backlash is an active campaign to discourage youngsters from seeking higher learning, decrying it as a waste of money and useless as a stepping stone to a career in the foreseeable poor economy.
So we begin the blame game. Why are the scores so bad? Why are so many children failing? Why are so many kids giving up?
It’s simple: Because we’ve somehow gotten the weird idea that “No Child Left Behind” means that:
(1) Everybody has to be on board the same metaphorical bandwagon on the same road to one definition of education instead of multiple vehicles on multiple roads to various forms of learning and educational certification,
(2) You’re supposed to take the time and resources to round everyone up to get them on the one bandwagon, even when they’re dodging the trip, and…
(3) You have to stop the bandwagon any time some little nitwit decides to jump off. And while everyone waits, you’re supposed to cajole the abandoner to get back on board before everyone else can move on. Further…
(4) According to the latest Tea Party rhetoric, you don’t just stop the wagon and find the kid who’s jumped off and hiding from you; you’re supposed to shoot the driver and find a replacement every time one of these twits takes a leap.
The latest Tea Party theory is that it’s all the fault of the teachers and teacher’s unions that kids are doing so poorly. Their proposal is to gut educators’ pension plans, tenure, seniority and anything else that is used as an employment incentive to keep our teachers in the classrooms. Somehow, magically, good teachers will emerge to step into the morass, sans benefits or security for them and their families, and take on the task of educating the next generation, knowing that if they are assigned to teach a class no one else wants of attention-deficit, disruptive, mentally challenged students who can’t remember on a daily basis if they walk to school or ride a bus, the TEACHER will lose his/her job when these little idiots can’t pass a generic standardized exam. So what’s a teacher’s motivation; an intense martyr’s passion to be unemployed, broke and humiliated? There might be a reward waiting in Heaven for this thankless job, but the teacher and his/her family have to eat right now. Not too many qualified people who have spent a fortune on higher education are going to embrace teaching under those conditions.
Our Tea Party Republicans say that a teacher’s pay should be merit-based. Your kids don’t perform, you don’t get paid. Wow. What a shame that isn’t applied to the parents of little non-achievers. Your kid doesn’t go to school, you don’t get paid. Your kid fails to participate in class, your pay gets docked. Your kid isn’t appropriately dressed or fed before they are sent to school; you lose your next raise. Your kid skips class; you have to surrender a day’s ration of food from your pantry. Your kid doesn’t turn in his homework; you have to put in two hours extra without pay at your job. Your kid mouths off at the teacher; you pay a fine. Your kid hits the teacher or other kids; you get to spend some time in jail.
How fast do you think parents would then get the message that education isn’t just the teacher’s job to provide; it’s the kids’ job to get what’s offered and the parents are responsible for putting a foot up the kid’s butt to make sure the kid does what he’s supposed to?
Why were the recent SAT tests so poor? One group says it’s because of the diversity in students we have now. Well – yeah. We have a bumper crop of non-English-speaking immigrants and their children, illegal or not; a bizarre policy of allowing people of other languages and cultures and abilities, for whom education is not a priority, to cherry-pick the criteria they’re going to comply with in attending public-funded schools, but insisting that their deficiencies be ignored and they still be issued the same certificates as those who do comply with ALL the rules and criteria of higher education. And then we use diversity-encouraging legislation to allow the non-achievers and the low achievers to get the same or better financial benefits as the high achievers in employment, housing and educational opportunities. Oh, and even if they’re not citizens or living on the dole, citizen taxpayers are supposed to fund these marginalized kids’ educations to the detriment of their own children’s access to higher learning. We’re in the habit now of richly rewarding people for non-achievement, non-compliance, and punishing anyone who tries to get ahead of the pack.
I believe we’re reaping the loss of common sense in our government institutions. It’s the inclusion silliness of political correctness and social experimentation as well as a politically-driven curriculum that’s created this fiasco. Not every child is meant to be a student. Not every child is meant to go to college. Every society has deadbeats and drop-outs. You aren’t going to save the dead-weights and do-nothings. Scrape them off and move on. Invest your money and talent in the kids who do what they’re supposed to do and who show they want to learn and be someone instead of the losers and snoozers who are content to drift aimlessly, sucking up resources better utilized elsewhere. Clean up the fraud, punish the grifters, and get some rewards back for tangible, measureable accomplishment.
Let’s upgrade our educational system to provide for a TASK-diverse workforce. America needs skilled technicians as well as academics. Let elementary schools teach basic skills, problem-solving techniques, and then open the door to vocations on an equal footing with academics after the sixth grade and you’ll see the more kids investing of themselves because learning is a means to a visible end and not some nebulous legality or societal expectation. Give technical skills the same weight as pure academics and you’ll raise students’ expectations of themselves and create a more positive, flexible, proficient labor force.
And meantime, tell the Tea Party ding-dongs to back off on their “let’s gut public employees – penny-wise and pound-foolish” campaign. We need to attract and retain good teachers. We need to quit shooting the messenger and DEAL with the real problems; top-heavy, over-paid, nonresponsive school administrators, poor morale of educators and students, and a lack of clear guidance in an antiquated academic hierarchy. We need a keen eye to what skills our nation requires to succeed, not just by the next election, but in 100 years. Our nation’s children deserve our best efforts to streamline this clunky, ineffective systemic dinosaur. And it’s long past time to give teachers what they need to be effective and the concerted recognition they so richly deserve instead of punishing them for continuing parental failure and political agendas.